Meanwhile, the Legion Academy pupils entered the seedy nectar bar called the Sunless Sky. They had decided to try a new tactic in their quest for their missing teacher. Thus Laurel Kent, Lamprey, and Nightwind entered the bar without using the distorters. They made no effort to conceal their true appearances, and Laurel proudly wore her red wrap, which proudly displayed the S shield of her ancestor Superboy.
Nightwind led the other two girls to one of the odd bar stools and ordered a soft drink. Since the bar was a Carggian establishment, each barstool branched out from a common stem into three elevated seats. She wore her customary brief purple costume, and the lights reflected the highlights in her silvery white hair.
Berta Skye Haris thought of Luornu Taine even as she glanced around the bar. She knew that her very appearance was something she owed largely to Luornu’s wise advice. For a brief time she had adopted heavy face makeup and a severe hooded cloak, along with an artificially somber demeanor in an effort to convince the Legionnaires that she was a serious and mature heroine. Lu had gently explained to her that she should remain true to herself and not seek to pose as something she was not merely to win the favor of others.
“Berta, be yourself,” she had said. “The Legion has a history of members passing themselves off as various masked or fake identities. Element Lad, Mon-El, Dream Girl, Star Boy, and even Supergirl have all done so in the past. However, they all abandoned those façades and became known as Legionnaires in their own right with their own identities. That’s why I urge you to drop the act and just work on becoming the best heroine you can be as you are!”
Now Nightwind turned to Lamprey and said, “Well, the first part of the plan is working. We’re getting stared at by every creep in the place. Laurel’s cape is like a mega-speaker announcing we’re Legion-related!”
Lamprey pushed back her long green hair and nodded. “While we attract attention and hopefully comment from the locals, our pals will be listening and watching in concealment.”
Laurel crossed her legs and turned to see a large humanoid with four arms. He stood over her, reeking of Naltorian ale. “You think you’re a Supergirl? Let me take you home, and I’ll prove that I’m a Superman!” he said with a belch.
She shook her head and said, “Sorry, I’m not interested!”
Gripping her shoulder, he leaned closer and said, “I don’t take no for an answer!”
Laurel Kent smiled for a moment, then kicked him backward across the room. He fell with a crash and rushed back to confront her with anger in his eyes. “I’ll kill ya!” he cried. She stood up and idly blew on her nails as if to polish them.
He hit her with all of his might, then groaned in pain as her invulnerability left him injured and surprised. “Oh, you again? Sorry, I was distracted,” said a mocking Laurel.
Another alien pulled out an electro-blaster and fired it at her. Lamprey shoved her aside and absorbed the current until she glowed with a faint greenish light. She swallowed hard and then released the energy in a blinding blast that drove back several other patrons.
Nightwind threw up one arm in a dramatic gesture and brought the swinging lights above crashing down into a pair of rugged attackers.
“OK, we’ve started a brawl,” said Laurel. “Now what?”
Lamprey knocked a purple man through a table with some of her stored-up electrical energy. She could channel such power into her physical attributes for a limited time. “This is the point at which we either get the data we want or make a run for it!” she said with a rueful smile.
Laurel embraced Nightwind as a man brought a chair crashing down at her back. Laurel shrugged off the splintered chair as Nightwind punched him in the face. “Thanks, L.K.!” she cried.
Suddenly, Power Boy and Crystal Kid dropped their distorted disguises and joined the fight. The two boys had entered in disguise earlier along with Mentalla. While the women had created the brawl and drawn comments and attention, the others had been positioned around the bar in order to pick up anything that could help them find Lu or learn more about Farnum Zef.
The Crystal Kid hurled a barrage of blunt crystal spheres into the patrons and yelled, “We have it! Let’s rocket!”
They raced out to where a seedy little man waited with a confident Mentalla. “He works for Farnum Zef,” she explained. “He saw your little display, and he told his buddy that they should recruit you three for the exhibition. Apparently, Zef runs some kind of sideshow, and this worm felt you three would make fine exhibits. As soon as I heard the name Farnum Zef pass his lips via my broad scan of vocal emissions, I took control of him and signaled the boys to help get you out!”
Turning to the little man, she said, “Take us to the holo-theater this Zef is using.”
The little man sighed and whined, but his legs began to move and under the control of the cocky Mentalla, he led the heroes to Zef’s rented holo-theater.
“Nice going, Mentalla!” said Jed Rikane. “I knew you could control motor skills and such, but that physiological scan of yours is amazing.”
Mentalla tilted her head slightly in acknowledgment and said, “It is something I developed with a suggestion from Bouncing Boy. You know how he harps on about maximum use of any power. He suggested I try to use my gift to receive various sensory data from those around me. I’m not reading minds. I just see or hear what others see, hear, or say!”
Crystal Kid smiled and said, “Delya, you are something else. Why don’t we go to the Pleasuredome when all this is over?” She smiled coldly and ignored him, even as he gasped and remained silent.
“What’s wrong, Bobb?” asked Lamprey.
He shook his head and blushed slightly. “Nothing. Just had a bit too much to drink in that nectar bar! Should have made a stop before we left.”
Mentalla smiled slightly. She did not need to say or do more. A casual use of her powers to manipulate Bobb Kohan slightly had been enough to silence his brash romantic overtures. They followed the little man and soon reached the location of Farnum Zef’s Exhibition of Exhilaration. The crowds had diminished, and the theater was almost empty now.
Laurel Kent frowned and said, “I don’t think we need to look any further. See that sign?” She pointed to one now-empty chamber in the hall where signs in several languages announced that Luornu Durgo Taine was that chamber’s main attraction.
Lamprey shuddered. “They really did put her on display,” said Tayla Skott. “But where is she now?”
“Our unwilling guide here says Zef’s office is behind that door!” said Mentalla. Turning to Power Boy, she said, “Put him to sleep.”
Jed frowned. “I can’t hit that little guy! I can’t fight a man who can’t fight back. That would be wrong!”
Mentalla scowled in disgust and turned to face the small crook. “Run into the door with your head!” she said. He hurled himself into the office door, and as it shattered, he fell stunned to the floor. “No matter. I’ve dealt with him.” She led them inside as the others exchanged glances of concern or surprise.
The academy pupils entered Farnum Zef’s empty office and looked around. Each wall displayed photos of the master showman. He clearly viewed the rented office as a shrine to himself. “What an ego!” said Laurel. “This guy makes you look like a modest and retiring fellow, Bobb!”
Bobb sighed and said, “Is everyone giving me grief today? I am the guy who brought you all here!”
“We’re just joking,” said Tayla. “I’ve heard the real Legionnaires do the same. It helps them deal with the stress of life-and-death matters.”
“Look out! They’re here!” said Jed.
Indeed, Farnum Zef and his band of allies had entered behind the heroes, and the marksman named Nimbar was already aiming one of his darts.
Nightwind jumped forward and raised both arms. She gestured, and a carefully concentrated gust of wind swept the man’s fired projectile directly into the leg of Rik Dayn of Braal.
The angry redhead yelled and slammed Nimbar into a wall via the metal bands he wore across his chest. “You idiot! That dart hit me!” said the ex-magno-ball champ.
“Release me!” said Nimbar. “It was not my fault. That wind witch made my dart strike you!”
“This is no time for strife,” said Zef. “Together, we may claim them all for my exhibition! Imagine the revenue!”
Beautee’s eyes widened in surprise as she heard her own voice say, “Grizzly! Battalia is our enemy! Get her!” The hulking beast roared and charged toward the Khundish warrior woman.
“By the beard of my father! I will rend that beast and then wring your pretty neck!” cried Battalia as she raised her ax.
“It’s not her fault!” said Zef. “The sultry blonde from Titan is making Beautee say those commands!” He ran forward to grab Mentalla, when the Crystal Kid touched him, and he was encased in gleaming crystal.
“I can keep him in there as long as I concentrate,” said Bobb.
Rik Dayn sent a barrage of metal ripping from the walls and floors at the heroes as the Braalian struggled to fight the narcotic dart that sapped his own strength. “Got to kill them now!” he said. “I have no choice. I’m getting weak!”
Laurel darted forward and intercepted much of the metal storm with her invulnerable body as Power Boy increased his own density and charged through it to knock Rik flat. I hated to hurt that guy, since he was already drugged, but I had to protect my pals! thought Jed Rikane.
Lamprey flew across the room and dropped into Beautee with both legs. The impact stunned the black-haired woman as she crashed to the floor.
Nimbar fired three gas pellets into the room and backed away toward the exit. “I will fight again some other day!” he vowed.
“Not without air!” cried Nightwind as she drew all the air away from him and left him gasping at her feet.
Battalia sliced furiously at Grizzly as the creature raked at her with his own claws. She knew that it was not able to understand that its mistress was not truly giving it orders to attack, but she fought on bitterly and with something of pleasure in her cold eyes.
Beautee sat up from beneath Lamprey and cried, “Grizzly, do not kill her! Merely hold her!”
Lamprey shivered as she saw that Beautee was truly out cold from her own attack. Mentalla was using her body and voice for their own purposes, but the effect was unnerving to say the least.
Grizzly fell on top of the Khundish woman, who roared in anger and rammed her ax into his chest. He was bleeding badly, but his sheer mass trapped her beneath his still form.
Bobb released Farnum Zef, who saw how his friends had fallen and began to talk rapidly. “My, my, my! How impressive! You youngsters have beaten them. You showed skill. You displayed courage. You’d make terrific stars in my exhibition. I’d pay you all, of course. I’d give you all, say, ten percent. I mean, I’d do all the promotion work.” As the Legion Academy students closed in on him, he added, “Did I say ten percent? Let’s make that twenty!”
Laurel jerked him forward by his lapel and said, “Tell us where you took Luornu Taine!”
“Well, now, that’s a story in itself,” said Zef. “You see, she fled from our little holo-theater, and we have not been able to find her since. We searched for her, and that delay apparently was enough to enable you to find us. She is out there somewhere. I’d hurry if I was you.”
“He’s telling the truth,” said Mentalla. “I sense that much. She’s free of him.”
Jed smiled broadly. “We won! We beat them all!”
Bobb slapped him on the back and said, “We sure did. Stick with me, kid. We’re going to be big!”
Mentalla pursed her lips in scorn. “Don’t be silly. We were very lucky. We went into battle with some awareness of what our foes could do. We had the luxury of being able to plan our attack. You also had my mind and powers working for you. If I had not turned that Grizzly creature against the Khund, they might very well have beaten us all again! I would say we were merely fortunate.”
“I think we worked well together as a team,” said Laurel Kent. “We managed to turn the others against each other. That’s how we won!”
“What about Lu?” asked Berta. “We have to find her. After being emotionally and mentally exploited by this rogue, she must be a wreck!”
“I agree,” said Tayla. “Still, we have one more job to do here. Let’s free all of Zef’s prisoners. He’s been exploiting other helpless victims in this show for too long!”
Laurel nodded. “You’ve got a good heart. Let’s do it quickly, then search for Luornu!”
Farnum Zef sighed in disgust. He saw his beaten allies and heard how the heroes planned to free his captives. He was a broken man, yet a glimmer of hope occurred to him even in defeat. The holo-vid rights to my story will make millions! he thought with a sly smile.